Half of a Yellow Sun
Realities of Race
Half of a Yellow Sun:
Nigeria novel comes to the big screen
‘Americanah,’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What’s the difference between an African-American and an American-African? From such a distinction springs a deep-seated discussion of race in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, “Americanah.” Adichie, born in Nigeria but now living both in her
Digging into the Palimpsest: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the Nigerian tradition in literature
By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Juxtaposed with Chinua Achebe’s Aristotle-like praise of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s accomplishment as a historical/war novelist, Joyce Carol Oates’ description of Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun as “a major successor to such twentieth-century classics as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart” (Half blurb) is significant enough to draw attention to what Adichie has made of her inheritance of that which can be discerned as the Nigerian tradition in literature.
Thus, despite a near-bazaar tinge that approximates the product endorsement fever associated with the corporate world, coming in the wake of the remarkable and infectious reception given her kinsmen, Chinua Achebe and T. Obinkaram Echewa, author of The Land’s Lord (1976 winner of the English-speaking Union Prize), The Crippled Dancer (1986 regional finalist for the Commonwealth Book Prize) and I Saw the Sky Catch Fire (1993), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can be said to be a major inheritor of an engaging literary tradition. It is the panache with which she has extended the tradition of Nigerian literature that has earned Adichie no less than 604 entries made up of 1 book, 54 essays, 9 Encyclopedia entries, 2 Study Guides, 9 Dissertations (5 MA and 4 PhD), 99 profiles, 68 news clips, 1 review each of For Love of Biafra and Decisions, 105 reviews of Purple Hibiscus, 129 reviews of Half of a Yellow Sun, 108 reviews of The Thing around Your Neck and 18 miscellaneous comments. In this regard, there is no doubt that Chimamanda Adichie has become one major Nigerian writer who has attained the type of celebrity status and profile thought exclusive to footballers and film stars.
And when one considers that Daria Tunca’s Adichie website, despite its relative comprehensiveness marked by the inclusion of entries that range across the five continents of the world is not complete, one can then begin to fathom how in less than eight years the critical reception of Chimamanda Adichie has seized the global imagination. If notwithstanding the privilege of a diaspora location Adichie has earned such a massive and intimidating critical industry around her works, one must begin to appreciate the relevance of Charles Nnolim’s thesis that since “critics never meet to create canons”, there is no doubt that “a good literary work will not only attract attention, it will compel it” (Akpuda “Interview” 55).
The Chimamanda Adichie canon that ranges across Decisions (1997 poetry); For Love of Biafra (1998, drama); Purple Hibiscus (2003, novel), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006 novel) and The Thing Around Your Neck (2009, short stories) is a peculiarly Nigerian brand. In order to contextualize how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works fit and extend the Nigerian tradition in Literature, it would be difficult to dispense with opinions expressed by the triad of Bernth Lindfors, Bruce King and Charles Nnolim in matters related to the issue at hand. Even when often times the trio have been focussing on the Nigerian novel as a good exemplar of the Nigerian Tradition in Literature, they have never lost sight of the cross-generic essence in the panoramic ambience of this national heritage in imaginative Literature. For instance, in what constitutes a very significant engagement with T. S. Eliot’s programmatic essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, Bernth Lindfors demonstrates to what extent “the debate concerning what is original and what is derivative in an individual author’s work is an important one in African literary studies” (23). Before asserting that Chinua Achebe is “probably the only one alive who will have established a living literary tradition in his own lifetime”, Bernth Lindfors while reacting to the Eliotian axiom about the idea of invoking the “historical sense” volunteers that “Achebe is a ‘traditional’ writer, because he knows what to do with the traditions he inherited” (48).
No doubt, Bruce King alludes to the above in his introduction to Introduction to Nigerian Literature when he affirms that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart inaugurates “the real tradition of Nigerian literature in English” (qtd in Emenyonu xvi).King deliberates on the perspectives from which Achebe’s first novel can be said to have displayed such trail-blazing character. According to King it begins a tradition not only because its influence can be detected on subsequent Nigerian novelists… but also because it was the first solid achievement upon which others could build. Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to successfully transmute the conventions of the novel, a European art form, into African literature. His craftsmanship can be seen in the way he creates a totally Nigerian texture for his fiction: Ibo idioms translated into English are used freely… European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the rhythms of traditional tribal life. (qtd in Emenyonu (xvi-xvii)
Although Charles Nnolim does not necessarily contest the supposed European origin of the novel, he draws attention to the subtle interaction that has brought about such attachment to imagined European patrimony of African (Nigerian) literature in English. Thus, in at least three separate essays, namely, “The Nigerian Tradition in the Novel,” “Trends in the Nigerian Novel” and “Chinua Achebe: writer as Nigerian”, Charles Nnolim amplifies our understanding of what can be discerned as the Nigerian tradition in literature. A brief recap of the kernel of Nnolim’s arguments and postulations in these essays would guide us to better appreciate and contextualize in what sense his epigraph at the beginning of this essay can be said to apply to Chimamanda Adichie as much as it does to Ben Okri. Once we accommodate the restriction to and use of the novel genre and novelists in contextualizing the Nigerian tradition in Literature we can agree with Nnolim that
I do not mean by “tradition” what our novelists have borrowed from Europe or the West. I rather mean, what our novelists have made their own, different from any other, in spite of the circumambient presence of European and the West on our literary endeavours. My overall aim is to stress what is indigenous in our novels. (27 emphasis supplied)
Apart from rejecting the idea of ‘tradition’ being considered as ‘a period’ or a phase in the Nigerian novel, Charles Nnolim emphasizes its enduring quality as a literary phenomenon. For him, therefore, within the context of the Nigerian novel, tradition would mean
the literary conventions and habits of expression used by the Nigerian novelist in the practice of his art, plus the observable narrative techniques employed by the Nigerian novelist to highlight the Nigerian world-view in literature and by the Nigerian tradition in the novel, I mean that tradition which takes its roots from our oral literature. (26)
Here, it is in the second and more definitive sense that Nnolim addresses that which gives the works of a Nigerian novelist a special regional colouration. Furthermore, he recognizes that the Nigerian tradition in literature is that artistic conduct and gesture which maintains a continuity with our folk literature.
Additionally, Nnolim has documented for us in his essay “Trends in the Nigerian Novel” how aspects of the Nigerian tradition in literature have been realized in different novels. Beyond identifying to what extent Achebe’s inauguration of the great tradition of the Nigerian novel consists and projects the trend of cultural assertion or cultural nationalism (Nnolim ‘‘Trends’’ 53), copied by John Munonye , Elechi Amadi, Flora Nwapa, Onuora Nzekwu and T.M. Aluko, Nnolim goes ahead to isolate and describe such tendencies as ‘urban novel’ (Nnolim “Trends” 56), the ideological novel, the feminist novel (moderate and radical), the war novel and the experimental or modernist temper novel. Elsewhere, he urges that the contemporary female novel is centred on the hearth and the family (see “Contemporary” 237). No doubt, the foregoing are part of the palimpsest which Adichie digs into, expands, modifies and solidifies.
One look at Chinua Achebe’s “The African Writer and the Biafran Cause” (1969), Kole Omotoso’s “The Nigerian Civil War: The Most Important Theme in Post War Nigerian Writing” (1981) and Chidi Amuta’s “The Nigerian Civil War and the Evolution of Nigerian Literature” (1983) would perhaps underscore why very early in the day Chimamanda Adichie bought into the argument of the most important issue in Nigerian politics and literature. Although the signal is announced in at least two poems in her poetry collection Decisions (1997) namely” May Massacre” and “To my fatherland now and then”, she advances such literary manifesto by publishing the highly partisan drama entitled For Love of Biafra (1998). There is no doubt that in accounting for the justification for the proliferation of Nigerian civil war literature, we have to agree with Chidi Amuta that ‘‘despite the geographical re-assembling of the Nigerian nation in 1970, the social and political behaviour that caused the war is still very much with us’’ (“Evolution” 89). Elsewhere in “Literature of the Nigerian Civil War”, Amuta reminds us that to be familiar with Nigerian literature in the period between 1970 and the present is to be conversant with one dominant and recurrent area of social concern: the Nigerian civil war (1967-70). The dominance is so pronounced that it can safely be said that in the growing body of Nigerian national literature, works, directly based on or indirectly deriving from the war experience constitute the largest number of literary products on any single aspect of Nigerian history to date. (85)
It is such a reasoning that contextualizes and justifies the performance on September 2011 in far away United States of America at the Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island of Chinua Achebe’s “Refugee Mother and Child” and Gabriel Okara’s “Waiting for A Son”, all Biafran poems.
As with the several other Nigerians who share this same sensibility about the unfinished business of nationhood which the secession sought to tackle, Chimamanda Adichie also subscribes to Wole Soyinka’s thesis about the fundamental reality, metaphor and symbolism that Biafra represents as expressed by Wole Soyinka and Akachi Ezeigbo. Such explains why in his The Open Sore of a Continent, Wole Soyinka insists that the spirit of Biafra cannot be exorcised. In Soyinka’s words,
There are of course those dissenting biographers and historians, the establishment who insist on writing and speaking of Biafra in inverted commas, in a coy, sanctimonious denial of reality. We should even encourage them to write it B—-ra or invent any other childish contrivances, like a literary talisman programmed to create a lacuna in a history that dogs our conscience and memory; every day still reminds us that the factors that led to Biafran neither were ephemeral nor can be held to be permanently exorcised. (32)
Akachi Ezeigbo also harps on issues related to the last segment of Soyinka’s statement when, in her study of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta and Eddie Iroh in a work entitled “Biafran War Literature and Africa’s Search for Social Justice”, she insists that granted that “the injustices thrown up by the civil war and the crisis before it have not been addressed” we must contend with a situation where “the ghost of Biafra continues to haunt Nigeria” (65).
The decade within which Chimamanda Adichie was born can be said to represent, to a great degree, the flowering of Biafran war literature. Just as she rightly acknowledges in her Half of a Yellow Sun, there cannot be but a spectacular indebtedness to the tradition of Nigerian civil war literature in her work. And without doubt the prominence of Nsukka, Adichie’s place of infancy and adolescence and setting of her works, either in the production or promotion of the war literature is quite phenomenal. For instance, among the major poetry texts of the period are Okogbule Wonodi’s Dusts of Exile (1971), Chinua Achebe’s Beware Soul Brother (1971/1972), Chukwuma Azuonye (ed) Nsukka Harvest (1972), Pol Ndu’s Songs for Seers (1974), Michael Echeruo’s Distanced (1975), Thomas Chigbo’s Images and Damages (1977), Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Civil War Soliloquies (1977) and Ossie Enekwe’s Broken Pots (1977). Of the prominent Biafran novels produced in the 1970s we have S. O. Mezu’s Behind the Rising Sun (1971) John Munonye’s A Wreath for the Maidens (1973), I.N.C. Aniebo’s The Anonymity of Sacrifice (1974), Eddie Iroh’s Forty-Eight Guns for the General (1976), Cyprian Ekwensi’s Survive the Peace (1976), Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn (1976), Kalu Uka’s Colonel Ben Brim (1978) and Eddie Iroh’s Toads of War (1979). Roughly the same can be said for the 1980s during which time of the not less than 18 war novels produced at least, 14 were by Igbo speakers, former citizens of the Biafran enclave. The four non-Biafran novels of the 1980s include Ken Saro Wiwa’s Sozaboy (1985/1986), Festus Iyayi’s Heroes (1986), Elechi Amadi’s Estragement (1989). Thus, despite Adichie’s testimony that her parents, James N. Adichie and Grace I. Adichie, “broke down the walls around their painful war memories” (For Love viii), it would be difficult to imagine how she could have started writing stories about the Nigerian-Biafran war without relying on Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn, Flora Nwapa’s Never Again and so on. Her orientation to reading and the four years research that went into developing Half of a Yellow Sun should be enough to demonstrate how the library complemented the oral testimonies from her relations. Furthermore, whether it represents a partial or preferred list or not, there is no doubt that Chimamanda Adichie’s indebtedness to the existence of a Nigerian literary tradition of war literature can be seen in the fairly comprehensive list of 7 Biafran war novels, 4 short story collections, and at least 19 other texts ranging across memoirs, historical and socio-political commentaries. It is the selective and sensitive Chimamanda Adichie who does not cite Chinua Achebe’s Beware Soul Brother (1971), that prefers adopting as an epigraph to part one of Half of a Yellow Sun, an excerpt from ‘Mango Seedling’, a poem in the pro-Biafran title of Achebe’s Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems (1969). In other words, Adichie anticipates and answers the poser by Hodges about the comprehensiveness or otherwise of Adichie’s list (see Hodges 1).
It is such scenario that Adichie responds to in her civil war literature, hinted at in Decisions (1997), her first collection of poetry, projected in her drama For Love of Biafra (1998), her short stories , “Half of a Yellow Sun”, “Ghosts” and “Chinasa” before her novel Half of a Yellow Sun. This way, Adichie follows Wole Soyinka’s trail-blazing career of writing about the civil war multi-generically, in his poetry, A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), his prison memoir, The Man Died (1972), his drama, Madmen and Specialists (1971), among others. She is also following in the footsteps of I.N.C. Aniebo’s and Ossie Enekwe’s war novels and short stories about the war. For Aniebo we have the novel The Anonymity of Sacrifice and the war stories’ collection, Rearguard Actions (1998). With Enekwe, the war poet of Broken Pots, we also have the war novel, Come Thunder (1980) which Adichie lists in her references and the collection of short stories on the war, The Last Battle and Other Stories (1996).
However, beyond the foregoing, it is interesting to know that long before the proliferation of pro-Biafran war films such as Hollywood’s Tears of the Sun, Nollywood’s The Battle of Love, Across the Niger and Turning Point (2003), Chimamanda Adichie would publish her first major war literature, a drama, For Love of Biafra in 1998. The text which shares certain features with James Ene Henshaw’s Enough is Enough (1976), Elechi Amadi’s The Road to Ibadan (1977) and Catherine Acholonu’s Into the Heart of Biafra (1985) is also very significant because of how it anticipates the themes that would engage Adichie in Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. Some of these include filial and non-filial love, growing up, leadership problems, wars, ethnicity, and so on.
No study of Chimamanda Adichie’s later works from Purple Hibiscus to the present can be deemed complete without references to her first poetry collection, Decisions (1997) and her first published drama For Love of Biafra (1998). Thus, despite the bad press that For Love of Biafra has received at the hands of the author, and even if these first works are considered as juvenilia, they cannot possibly be dismissed. After all, as Derek Wright has noted, “the juvenilia of authors is of interest partly because of whatever independent merit it may have, but mainly in its embryonic foreshadowing of the main body of their works” (478). This is not only true of Ayi Kwei Armah, the subject of Wright’s essay but also of Chimamanda Adichie . We not only espy in Decisions and For Love of Biafra the germ of what would be further developed in Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and the short stories, but also the deep passion with which Adichie grapples with the main thematic preoccupations of her earlier works.
Decisions, Adichie’s poetry collection and first published book, introduces themes and issues that are as cross-generational as they are basically generational. Thus, beyond the broad frame of politics, religion and emotional love, Adichie’s Decisions addresses the problems of dictatorship, civil rights struggles, ethnicity and the Nigerian civil war issues that would resonate not only in For Love of Biafra but also her novels and short stories. For instance, it is right from Adichie’s 1995 poem “May Massacre” that we begin to encounter the making of a strong female voice on the war. Apart from reacting to one of the crucial incidents that precipitate the Biafra secession and the civil war, this poet persona would give birth first to Adaobi the ideological Biafran in For Love of Biafra and who no doubt prepares us for the equally seemingly hyper-active pro-Igbo and pro-Biafran Olanna in Half of a Yellow Sun. Perhaps, a look at Adichie’s January 27, 1995 poem “May Massacre” will prepare our minds to appreciate her personal attachment to the experience of Biafra as would preoccupy her in her other creative works and justify the forcefulness of her defense of this passion in her interview with Nduka Otiono. As the twelve line, three stanza poem reads:
They suffered the senseless killing
And their women painful rape.
They, who for unity were willing
Unprepared for their tribe scrape.
The ‘Sabon Garis’ were looted
And death awaited them still in awe
At their race’s slaughter they were muted,
Their killers disregarding all law.
The slaughter of innocents of one race,
By another defying unity.
They suffered for country’s grace,
And to their blessed memories great compassion, greatest pity. (Decisions 22)
“May Massacre” is Chimamanda Adichie’s style of making what can be regarded as an audacious entry in a major aspect of Nigeria’s literary heritage. It is this poem which marks what she describes in a footnote as “in memory of the May 1966 massacre of about three thousand Igbos in northern Nigeria” (Decisions 22) that anticipates what would engage Adichie’s attention in her subsequent writings. Here, it is instructive to note that outside the “slave trade of the period c. 1450 – c. 1850” and “British colonialism from c. 1850 to 1960” A.E Afigbo considers “the pogroms of 1966, the savage war against Biafra” as instances of “deliberate evil” (1). Any wonder then that Afigbo considers these developments as a demonstration of “the tears of a nation”? (1). Concerning the significance of the May pogrom, Sydney Emezue reminds us that “May 29, 1966, the day the first orgy of violence was unleashed on the Igbo in the North was a Sunday and many people were attacked while in Churches or returning therefrom” (59). In response to two questions posed by Nduka Otiono about the place of the Igbo in Nigeria, Adichie came out in what is probably her most hortatory best. For a lady who believes that “Biafra was about the inalienable right of human beings to be alive” (“I Connect” 19), one can understand the brain behind the creation of the strong-willed Adaobi the Biafran in For Love of Biafra and Olanna, Kainene and so on in Half of a Yellow Sun. As a way to query those who would render Biafra apologetically in inverted commas, Adichie while situating the perilous position of the Igbo in Nigeria notes as follows:
I find it curious, though that Biafra is nearly always a divided issue. I wonder too, why Biafra still seems to be taboo and to carry a stigma. I think it says something about the place of the Igbo in Nigeria today that BIAFRA has become an ‘Igbo issue’. If one claims to believe in Nigeria, and in the unity of diversity idea, then one must embrace the study and investigation of Biafra because, Nigeria would not be today as it is if Biafra had not been. (“I Connect’’ 19)
Earlier in her response to the talks about the significance of the Biafran encounter in history and literature, Adichie volunteers as follows;
It frustrates me that we choose, in Nigeria, to ignore our recent history. I am often asked why I wrote about the Biafra, as though it is something I have to justify. Imagine asking somebody to justify writing about the Holocaust. We do not just risk repeating history if we sweep it under the carpet, we also risk being myopic about our present. I was never taught about the war when I was in primary or secondary school…(“I Connect” 19)
It is instructive that the above remark is made in response to Nduka Otiono’s observation about Adichie’s “awarding-winning story suggesting a deep involvement with the Biafran experience” (19).
For an appreciation of the backdrop against which Purple Hibiscus is written, especially as they relate to the scaffolding atmosphere of domestic and national levels, the problem of fuel scarcity, doctors being on strike and other anomalies congruent with social anomie, one needs to acquaint oneself with such Adichie poems as “To the Dictator”, “My Sinking Land”, “He’s Coming”, “Are We Tired”, “State of Fear”, “Fuel” and “Our Man”. These are all poems Adichie wrote between 12th November and 10th December, 1994. They equally help us to anticipate and contextualize the pluming of Nigeria’s recent history in Purple Hibiscus which beyond reminding us of Helon Habila’s Prison Stories extends the historicization by alluding to the killing of Bartholomew Owoh and others for drug trafficking. Here, we are taken down memory lane to the beginnings of laws interpreted retroactively in Nigeria.
As already hinted, although Amanda N. Adichie’s For Love of Biafra is a civil war drama that reminds one of aspects of the war drama written by Charles Umeh, James Ene Henshaw, Elechi Amadi, Catherine Acholonu and Chris Nwamuo, a memorable thing about Adichie’s text is that it has an indistinguishable link with Purple Hibiscus and Half of the Yellow Sun. Invariably, the themes, setting and characterization that would be developed in the later works (especially the novels) are first tried out in For Love of Biafra. Thus, what approximate quasi-biographical issues and thematic and stylistic concerns we encounter in Adichie’s short stories and novels are first outlined in her drama text.
Any consideration of the central concerns of Adichie’s For Love of Biafra, would without doubt prepare our minds about the issues presented in Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. The story of Adaobi and her heartthrob, Mohammed, relayed within the context of living with one’s immediate and extended family members is an intense growing-up drama that would preoccupy her in her novels. A sensitivity to the ideas of family relationships is preached in Adichie’s drama. It is there that we first come across affectionate names such as Papa Nnukwu and Mama Nnukwu which echoes we would experience in the design of the nuclear and extended family ties of Eugene Achike in Purple Hibiscus. Moreover, where we meet male and female siblings, Ebuka and Adaobi who are twins with Nduka telling his father that “Adaobi should have been the boy and Ebuka the girl” (For Love 50) in Half of a Yellow Sun we meet two ladies Olanna and Kainene as twins who operate like militants. The place names, Abba and Umunnachi which resonate in Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun are talked about first in For Love of Biafra.
The story of Adaobi and Mohammed in Adichie’s drama is creatively reconstructed in that of Olanna and Mohammed in Half of a Yellow Sun. In For Love of Biafra, the Mohammed that Adaobi “was seriously considering eloping with” (26) and who she even rejects later is nonetheless described as a refined and perfect gentleman. As Adaobi describes him,
He is a good person, such a trusted friend. He almost grieved when I told him we were leaving. He did not understand, he does not understand violence or injustice because he is such a good person. Besides unlike most of his people he is well educated. He went to a very good college…(24)
It is this same type of accomplished man that we encounter in the portrait of Mohammed in Half of a Yellow Sun. Strangely it is this very hyper-sensitive Mohammed in Adichie’s civil war novel who saves Olanna amidst the turbulence in Kano that Olanna like her predecessor Adaobi equally rejects.
Harish, the Biafran loving Indian, who we meet in For Love of Biafra, metamorphoses into Richard, the British researcher in Half of a Yellow Sun. However, unlike Harish who, according to Papa Ona does “not understand our language” (For Love 32), Richard in Half of a Yellow Sun understands and speaks Igbo. Furthermore, he considers himself an Igbo and a Biafran the way that Harish could not have gone.
The notion of saboteurs that we read about in a very denigrating manner in Half of a Yellow Sun:
the only saboteurs we have are the ones Ojukwu invented so he can lock up his wants. Did I ever tell you about the Onitsha man who bought up sll of the cement we had in the factory shortly after the refugees… coming back. Ojukwu is having affair with the man’s wife and has just had the man arrested for nothing. (313)
is anticipated in Adichie’s For Love of Biafra. In Adichie’s drama, we see perspectives about the notion of who are saboteurs in the encounter involving the pessimistic but realistic Ona and the duo of Papa Ona and Nduka as relayed on page 69 of For Love of Biafra. Elsewhere, we have an idea of what Nelson Ottah would describe as Rebels Against Rebels. At the beginning of Act 4, when Papa Nduka protests about how “our fellow Biafrans who are not Ibos are being molested, tortured, even killed by over-zealous Igbos who suspect them of collaboration with the federal troops” (For Love 63), Okoloma justifies the killings and cautions Papa Nduka “not to air these views of yours in public [since] you do not know who will label you a saboteur” (63). Invariably, granted what Okoloma refers to as “the common fate of saboteurs at the hands of irate mobs” (For Love 63), it follows that we are in an era of labeling people saboteurs in order to destroy them. It is the pathetic scenarios that Papa Nduka alludes to in For Love of Biafra that we witness in the scene involving refugees from Ndoni in Half of a Yellow Sun: As the passage in the novel reads.
A group of militia members holding matchetes were pushing two women along. They cried as they staggered down the road; their eyes reddened, what did we do? We are not saboteurs! we are refugees from Ndoni! We are refuges from Ndoni! We have done nothing! Pastor Ambrose ran out to the road and began to pray. ‘father God, destroy the saboteurs that are showing the enemy the way! Holy-spirit fise! (Half 377)
Granted the larger-than-life projection given the word ‘Sabo’ among the Igbo within the Biafran enclave, one can appreciate why at a time so many young people born in the 1950s and 1960s imagined that rather than being a creative Igbonization of an English word that ‘Sabo’ must have had some sort of autochtonous Igbo Etymology. In a way that is more elaborate than the presentation of saboteur in For Love of Biafra the discussion of saboteur takes centre stage in Half of a Yellow Sun. Thus, apart from the authorial narration conversations such as that between Olanna and Mrs Muokelu on Alice’s profile predominate. And Mama Oji’s insistence that “they should burn every single saboteur” (Half 337) is not unlike Okoloma’s clamour that the so-called saboteurs “deserve to be punished, it is they who are prolonging this war” (For Love 63).
It is in For Love of Biafra that we espy the foundations of what would give birth to the psychologically appealing and reverential song to Caritas in Half of a Yellow Sun namely “Caritas, thank you, / Caritas si anyi taba okporoko/na kwashiorkor ga-anaa” (Half 283). Of course,this is notwithstanding the fact that Olanna never joins the women at the relief centre to sing this song “on the days she came back with nothing” (Half 284). Both Mama Ona and Adaobi herself talk about the role of Caritas and other organizations in handling the problem of hunger during the war. Accordingly to Mama Ona’s testimony in Love of Biafra
I wonder what would have been the fate of our people, especially the young children, if not for the activities of caritas and the world council of churches, distributing food through relief centres, churches and hospitals. I have realized that there are really some of the white people who have hearts. (66)
What Adaobi’s says in Act 3 scene iv of For Love of Biafra and the stage directions thereafter are tactically reproduced in Adichie’s war short story “Half of a Yellow Sun” and equally modified in the novel Half of a Yellow Sun. No study of the making of the Nigerian Biafran civil war, the subject of Chimamanda Adichie’s play For Love of Biafra and her civil war novel, Half of a yellow sun can dispense with the manipulation of the stranger-element policy that characterized and still characterizes the profile of the Igbo in Northern Nigeria. Such explains why in a book entitled Strangers at Our Gate: The Igbo Nationality in Nigeria, Ikenna Nzimiro observes that
The Sabongari is where the strangers live and the Birini is where the indigenes live. We also have the Tudun-Wada, which has mixed population. It was not difficult to identify the “strangers at our gate” in case of any conflict between them and the indigenes. 152)
Adichie’s tempo-spatial stage direction that “it is early May 1966, in a Sabon Gari in Kano, Northern Nigeria” (For Love 1) is in the above context a very strategic handling of setting which is quite unique in drama texts focusing on the civil war. Thus, when Nchedo comes to warn his kinsman Papa Nduka on the need for them to leave Kano for the East, he reports as follows: a man’s body was found in the Sabon Gari, he was mutilated. He was prominent and rich, a kinsman in your caliber. It is said that a list of prominent nyamilis to be eliminated has been compiled. I have finished. I am going. (19)
Here, one notes that despite Mama Nduka’s reservations about Nchedo who she accuses of having “a strong aversion for the Hausa people” (For Love 19), one can still recall that there were specific historical incidents to warrant the type of opinion held and action taken by Nchedo in Adichie’s drama. Concerning the topicality of the temporal setting, May 1966, which would make some commentators to talk about genocide against the Igbo, one should recall that the experience which gave birth to Adichie’s holocaust poem “May Massacre” is something ingrained in the assaulted psyche of the people of the Eastern region and especially the Igbo. For instance, it is on record that, in a December 22, 1966 submission by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, it was stated inter alia that Mindful of the fact that we are all children of the same father God no matter from what part of the country we come, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria re-state God’s fundamental commandment of fraternal love: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self” … violence has been done to Nigeria’s ancient and proud reputation for hospitality towards strangers within her gates. Nigerians have become unwanted strangers in their own land (qtd in Nwosu 359)
In the same document addressed “To the leaders and people of Nigeria”, the group posit that “the Bishops remind all Nigerians of this fundamental commandment and call on all men of goodwill to join in restoring this nation to peace and stability through the practice of the law of God”
Source: Sun, 3rd December 2011.
Adichie Wins Orange Prize
By Paul Ohia with agency reports, 06.07.2007
Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was, at a colourful ceremony in London yesterday, awarded the twelfth Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction with her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.
With this achievement – which follows her earlier feat of reaching the finals in 2004 with his novel Purple Hibiscus – she bec-omes the first African and the youngest author to win the prestigious award at 29.
The contest was instituted in 1996 for the best novel of the year written in English by a woman and the 12th person worldwide.
Adichie received the award during a ceremony at London's Royal Festival Hall for the novel which focuses on the haunting look at Biafra's struggle in the late 1960s to break away from Nigeria.
She beat an Indian-born contenders, Kiran Desai, to clinch to much coveted prize of 30,000 pounds (N7.6m).
At the awards ceremony hosted by Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction Co-Founder and Honorary Director, Kate Mosse, the 2007 Chair of Judges, Muriel Gray, presented the author with the prize and the 'Bessie', a limited edition bronze figurine.
Soon after winning yesterday, Chimamanda told THISDAY that she was very glad to win the award. "My handbag was stolen yesterday at the book signing, so I thought it was a bad omen," she said. According to her, having won the award, the first thing was to call her parents in Nigeria. "The story in the book about the civil war is very important for me," she also said.
Muriel Gray, Chair of Judges, said: "The judges and I were hugely impressed by the power, ambition and skill of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel. It's astonishing, not just in the skillful subject matter, but in the brilliance of its accessibility. This is a moving and important book by an incredibly exciting author."
Pippa Dunn, Brand Marketing Director for Orange UK, commented: "The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction goes from strength to strength and we are delighted to be able to support such a powerful platform for the promotion of outstanding international fiction written by women. This year has seen another exceptional shortlist, but in the end, there can be only one winner - many congratulations to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie."
The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was set to celebrate and promote fiction written by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible.
Chimamanda was born in 1977. She is from Aba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004 and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun was selected for The Richard and Judy Book Club 2007.
This year's winner, Half of a Yellow Sun, is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of the vicious Nigeria- Biafra war in which more than a million people died. Three characters are swept up in the rapidly unfolding political events. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, is employed as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young, middle-class woman, has come to live with the professor, abandoning her privileged life in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charismatic idealism of her new lover. Richard is a tall, shy Englishman, in thrall to Olanna's twin sister Kainene, who refuses to belong to anyone.
They are propelled into events that will pull them apart and bring them together in the most unexpected ways. As Nigerian troops advance and they run for their lives, their ideals - and their loyalties to each other - are severely tested. This novel is about Africa, about moral responsibility, the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race and about how love can complicate all these things.
Source: This Day, 7th June 2007.
A Nigerian writers laud Chimamanda's Orange Prize win
By Uduma Kalu
NIGERIAN writers around the globe have risen in praise of one of their own, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, who won this year's Orange Prize for fiction.
Adichie won the 12th Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction with her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
Another Nigerian writer, Diana Evans, author of 26a, last year won the first ever Orange Award for New Writers.
The prize was established in 2005 as part of the Orange Prize for Fiction 10th year celebrations. Diana was presented with a ?10,000 bursary from the Arts Council of England.
Reacting to the development, President, Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA), Dr. Wale Okediran, while speaking with The Guardian described Chimamanda's success as a good omen.
"It will also serve as an inspiration to younger Nigerian writers who are finding it hard to write and publish in the country. Her effort is also good news to Nigerians as they will see that writing is something to be encouraged," he added.
ANA National Secretary-General, Mr. Denga Abdullahi, simply described the feat as "splendid."
"This is another confirmation of the excellence in the spirit of the ordinary Nigerian, if only those who lead us will allow us to flourish," he said further.
ANA Public Relations Officer, Hyacinth Obunseh, said Adiche's clinching of the Orange Prize at this time showed that great writings still come from Nigeria.
"It underscores the point that our women writers did not go back into their shells after breaking the silence in 1999 as being touted in some quarters. We are proud of her. It confirms that our literature is alive and well. We expect more soon," he said.
For such writers as Prof. Obi Iwuanyanwu, a United States-based literature teacher, Adiche's prize win calls for serious reflection.
"Now we will have to address the significance of Adiche in contemporary Nigerian literary praxis. We will have to ask why Nigerian literature has been in the doldrums since Wole Soyinka's Nobel Prize in 1986 and Ben Okri's Booker Prize in 1991. What made the writing of the third generation's Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Okigbo as globally commanding as the writing of the first generation's Olaudah Equiano? What made the writing of the second generation as weak as the writing of the fourth generation and much of the fifth generation?" he asked.
For him, Adiche has rediscovered the magic of great art and serious discourse. She has eschewed pretentiousness and self-flagellation; and taken the bull by the horn by calling a spade a spade.
Adiche was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth first book prize, was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. She won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for the debut fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun was selected for The Richard and Judy Book Club 2007.
The novel is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of the vicious Nigeria-Biafra war in which more than a million people died.
At an award ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London hosted by Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction co-founder and Honorary Director, Kate Mosse, the 2007 chair of judges, Muriel Gray, presented the author with the $30,000 prize and the 'Bessie', a limited edition bronze figurine. Both are anonymously endowed.
The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction written by women throughout the world to the widest range of readers possible. The Orange Prize is awarded to the best novel of the year written in the English Language by a woman.
Source: The Guardian, 8th June 2007.
Adichie, Nigerian Novelist,
Wins World Prize
By Agency Reporter
Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, collecting 30,000 pounds ($59,775) and a bronze statuete called the Bessie after defeating competition from Anne Tyler and four other finalists in the United Kingdom‘s annual literary award for women.
Adichie received the award during a ceremony at London‘s Royal Festival Hall for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, a haunting look at Biafra‘s struggle in the late 1960s to break away from Nigeria.
This year‘s finalists had a strong international flavour, both in their nationalities and in their subject matter.
Contenders included Indian-born Kiran Desai, whose The Inheritance of Loss explores how globalization influences a Himalayan village, and Xiaolu Guo from China, author of A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a romance.
Tyler, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was named for Digging to America, which wryly probes the complexities of identity and belonging through the lives of two American couples who adopt Korean infants.
Adichie‘s Half of a Yellow Sun, a Fourth Estate and Knopf title, focuses on a small group of characters to describe the civil war that erupted in Nigeria in 1967, when the Igbo people attempted to establish Biafra.
At its heart are twin sisters, beautiful Olanna and homely yet shrewd Kainene. Both have disappointed their wealthy father with their choice of lovers: Olanna by falling for a charismatic academic with revolutionary dreams, Kainene by taking up with a struggling English author.
Ugwu, a 13-year-old houseboy, looks on as political violence eclipses these domestic dramas.
Epic in its emotional scope, this finely crafted saga depicts massacres, starvation and forced conscription with heartbreaking humanity, grappling with colonialism and tribalism, class and race. It‘s also infused, miraculously, with humour.
Born in Nigeria in 1977, Adichie was an Orange finalist in 2004 with her first novel, Purple Hibiscus. The daughter of a college professor, she grew up on the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria, in a house once occupied by novelist and erstwhile Biafran diplomat, Prof. Chinua Achebe.
She later studied in the United State, where she obtained a masters degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and served as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton. She currently divides her time between Nigeria and the US, where she‘s pursuing graduate work in African studies at Yale.
Formerly known as the Orange Prize, the award is sponsored by the Orange brand of France Telecom SA and was designed to recognize novels that display “excellence, originality and accessibility.‘‘ The prize has previously gone to authors such as Zadie Smith for On Beauty and Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Adichie received the anonymously endowed prize at a champagne reception in the ballroom of newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. Other finalists included Rachel Cusk for Arlington Park and Jane Harris for The Observations.
Also presented this evening was the 10,000-pound Orange Broadband Award for New Writers. Now in its third year and open to debut works of fiction written in English and published in the U.K., it was snagged by Karen Connelly for her Burma-set thriller, “The Lizard Cage.‘‘
Source: Punch, 7th June 2007.
A Nigerian Author Looking Unflinchingly at the Past
By CHARLES McGRATH
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” takes place in her native Nigeria during the late 1960’s and early 70’s, when civil war erupted as the eastern state of Biafra attempted to
break away and was then forced into submission. Countless families were uprooted, including her own, and hundreds of thousands of Biafrans starved to death, died of illness or were murdered.
All this took place years before Ms. Adichie, who just turned 29, was born, and yet she writes about these events with deep feeling and unflinching vividness.
“My family tells me that I must be old,” she said in a recent interview. “This is a book I had to write because it’s my way of looking at this history that defines me and making sense of it. The writing took four years, but I’ve been thinking about this book my whole life.”
Talking about the ethnic divisions that were largely responsible for the war and that have persisted in Nigeria to this day, she added: “Of course we can bloody well live together. Nigeria was really set up to fail. The extent of that failure is what we have to accept responsibility for, but we weren’t set up for success.”
The fifth of sixth children, Ms. Adichie (pronounced “ah-DEE-chee-eh) grew up in Nsukka, a university town, where her mother was an administrator and her father a professor of statistics. The family lived, as it happened, in a house formerly occupied by the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, whose work she began to read when she was about 10.
“It was Achebe’s fiction that made me realize my own story could be in a book,” she said. “When I started to write, I was writing Enid Blyton stories, even though I had never been to England. I didn’t think it was possible for people like me to be in books.”
Though she had been writing for almost as long as she could remember, and even published a book of poetry when she was 16 — “really bad, awful poetry,” she says now — Ms. Adichie began studying medicine in college because, as she explained, “if you do well in school in Nigeria, everyone just expects you to be a doctor.”
Largely to get away from her medical studies, she moved to the United States in 1997 — first to Philadelphia and then to Connecticut, where her sister was living. While attending Eastern Connecticut State University, in Willimantic, she wrote her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” which was shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize and won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize.
“Purple Hibiscus” is in some ways a conventional coming-of-age story, about the sexual and moral awakening of a shy, bookish teenager, but it’s focused through two unusual lenses. In the foreground, at times dominating the story the way he dominates his family, is the narrator’s father. He is a factory owner, newspaper publisher and a public hero, but also a private tyrant, a convert to Roman Catholicism so fanatical that he tortures his children for minor transgressions.
And in the background is ever-present political turmoil and uncertainty, a pervasive atmosphere of oppression that Ms. Adichie says is a composite of the Babangida regime of the late 1980’s and the Abacha dictatorship of the 90’s.
“Half of a Yellow Sun” (Fourth Estate), which Janet Maslin in her review in The New York Times called “instantly enthralling,” is based on real events and is bigger and looser in structure than its predecessor. It is told mostly from three points of view: those of Ugwu, a houseboy from the bush who comes to work in the household of a radical, slogan-spouting professor; Olanna, the professor’s sexy, London-educated girlfriend; and Richard, a white man who is sensitive and well-meaning but also a little clueless and ineffectual.
The book begins, in fact, as a kind of social comedy and doesn’t darken until the war breaks out. Ugwu’s employer, for all his radicalism, carries on a bit like a colonial master, calling his houseboy “my good man,” and Ugwu, eager to please, responds by burning his master’s socks while trying to iron them. There are visits from Olanna’s father, a ridiculously wealthy “Big Man,” and mother, and also from the professor’s mother, who is opposed to his relationship with Olanna, and greets her by saying, “I hear you did not suck your mother’s breasts.”
“I didn’t want to just write about events,” Ms. Adichie said. “ I wanted to put a human face on them. And I also wanted to explore class — the outsider and the insider — and how war changes all that.”
She did a great deal of research, she added, but wound up throwing most of it out. Her main source was her father, who lost almost everything during the war — his home, his books, his own father. At the time of the interview he had just started reading “Half of a Yellow Sun.” She was pretty sure he would approve of her handling of history, Ms. Adichie said, but was a little worried about how he might react to the sex scenes.
Now that the book is done, Ms. Adichie is going back to school, enrolling in a master’s program in African history at . “I thought it was time I finally studied Africa,” she said, adding, “I’m sure it will improve my writing.” And she said that she foresaw eventually dividing her time between Nigeria and the United States, where she is gradually learning to feel at home.
“When I first got here, I was appalled,” she said. “People eat while walking in the street. My professors would sit down on the lawn with their students and have a sandwich. You’d never see that in Nigeria.”
But just recently, she said, she had startled herself by starting to feel defensive about the United States. “America is like a very rich uncle who doesn’t really know who you are,” she added. “But all the same, you can’t help being fond of him.”
Source: New York Times, 23rd September 2006.
Conscience and integrity, central to Igbo culture — Chimamanda
Ndi Anambra na ndi obia, ekenekwa m unu.
I am from Abba, in Njikoka Local Government Area. My mother is from Umunnachi in Dunukofia Local Government Area.
I grew up in Nsukka, in Enugu State, a town that remains deeply important to me, but Abba and Umunnachi were equally important to me. My childhood was filled with visits: To see my grandmother, to spend Christmas and Easter, to visit relatives. I know the stories of my great grandfather and of his father, I know where my great grandmother’s house was built, I know where our ancestral lands are.
Abum nwa afo Umunnachi, nwa afo Abba, nwa afo Anambra.
Most of the recorded history we have about the Igbo – and indeed about many other ethnic groups in Africa – came from foreigners, men and women who did not speak the language, missionaries and anthropologists and colonial government representatives who travelled through Igboland and recorded what they saw and who often had their own particular agendas; Which is to say that while they did useful and fascinating work, we still have to read their writing with a certain degree of scepticism.
However, all the history books written about Igbo people are consistent on certain things. They all noted that Igbo culture had at its heart two ostensibly conflicting qualities: a fierce individualism and a deeply rooted sense of community.
They all also noted that Igbo people did not have a pan-Igbo authority, that they existed in small republican communities, to which that popular saying Igbo enwe eze – the Igbo have no kings – attests.
Many of these missionaries and anthropologists did not approve of the Igbo political system. Because they themselves had come from highly hierarchical societies, they conflated civilization with centralization. Some of them wrote that the Igbo people were not civilized. This was of course wrong. The fact that the Igbo did not have an imperial system of governance did not mean that they were not civilized.
One of the writers summarized the Igbo system as being based on two things: consultation and consensus.
In fact one can argue that it was a much more complex form of organization, this system that I like to call the democracy of free-born males, because it is much easier to issue an order from the top than it is to try and reach a consensus. Professor Adiele Afigbo beautifully describes the political culture of pre-colonial Igboland when he writes that “Authority was dispersed between individuals and groups, lineages and non-lineages, women and men, ancestors and gods”
Perhaps it was this diffuse nature of authority that made it difficult for those early travellers to understand the Igbo. Professor Elizabeth Isichei has argued that if we are looking for unifying institutions among the Igbo, then we cannot look to political organization since there was no centralized system. Instead we must look at other areas - social institutions and customs, philosophical and religious values; and language.
And on the subject of language, I would like to tell you a little story.
Some years ago, I met an academic in the United States; An Igbo man. He wrote articles about Igbo culture, organized conferences about Igbo history. We had an interesting conversation during which he bemoaned the behaviour of Igbo people in America.
“Do you see the Chinese children?” He asked me. “They speak Chinese and English. See the Indian kids? They speak English and Bengali. But our children speak only English!”
He was very passionate. Then his phone rang and he excused himself and said it was his daughter. He spoke English throughout the call. At the end, I tried to be funny and asked him if his children spoke Igbo with an American accent? He said no.
Something in his manner, a certain discomfort, made me ask—do your children speak Igbo?
No, he said.
But they understand? I asked.
Well, a little, he said. Which I knew meant that they probably did not understand at all.
I was surprised. Not because it was unusual to see an Igbo whose children did not speak Igbo, but because I had imagined that this particular man would be an exception, since he wrote and spoke so passionately about Igbo culture. I imagined that he would not be infected with that particular condition of the Igbo – a disregard of their language.
It is not enough to bemoan this phenomenon or to condemn it; we must ask why it is happening, what it means, what it says about us, why it matters and most of all what we must do about it.
This condition is sadly not limited to the Diaspora. I once ran into a woman here in Nigeria, an old friend of my family’s, and her little son. I said kedu to the boy. His mother quickly said no, no, no, he doesn’t speak Igbo. He speaks only English.
What struck me was not that the child spoke only English, but that his mother’s voice was filled with pride when she said ‘hei mbakwa, o da-asukwa Igbo.’
She was proud that her child did not speak Igbo.
Why? I asked
Her reply was: Igbo will confuse him. I want him to speak English well.
Later as we talked about her work and her son’s school, she mentioned that he was taking piano and French lessons. And so I asked her, “Won’t French confuse him?” (okwu ka m na-achozikwa)!
The woman’s reason -- that two languages would confuse her child -- sounds reasonable on the surface. But is it true? It is simply not true. Studies have consistently shown that children have the ability to learn multiple languages and most of all, that knowledge of one language can aid rather than harm the knowledge of another. But I don’t really need studies. I am my own proof.
I grew up speaking Igbo and English at the same. I consider both of them my first languages and I can assure you that in my almost 37 years on earth, I am yet to be confused by my knowledge of two languages.
My sister, my parent’s first child, was born in the US, when my father was a doctoral student. My parents made a decision to speak only Igbo to her. They knew she would learn English in school. They were determined that she speaks Igbo, since she would not hear Igbo spoken around her in California. And I can assure you that she was not confused!
My parents are here. I could not have asked for better parents; Grateful to them for much/for giving me the gift of Igbo. I am richer for it. Sometimes I wish I could speak beautiful Igbo full of proverbs, like my father does, and I wish my Igbo were not as anglicized as it is, but that is the reality of my generation and languages have to evolve by their very nature.
I deeply love both English and Igbo. English is the language of literature for me. But Igbo has a greater emotional weight. It is the enduring link to my past. It is the language in which my great grandmothers sang. Sometimes, when I listen to old people speaking in my hometown Abba, I am full of admiration for the complexity and the effortlessness of their speech. And I am in awe of the culture that produced this poetry, for that is what the Igbo language is when spoken well – it is poetry.
To deprive children of the gift of their language when they are still young enough to learn it easily is an unnecessary loss. We now have grandparents who cannot talk to their grandchildren because there is a hulking, impermeable obstacle between them called language. Even when the grandparents speak English, there is often awkwardness in their conversations with their grandchildren, because they do not have the luxury of slipping back to Igbo when they need to, because they are navigating unfamiliar spaces, because their grandchildren become virtual strangers with whom they speak in stilted prose. The loss is made worse by imagining what could have been, the stories that could have been told, the wisdom that might have been passed down, and most of all, the subtle and grounding sense of identity that could have been imparted on the grandchildren.
Some things can’t be translated. My wonderful British-born niece Kamsiyonna once heard me say, in response to something: O di egwu.
She asked me: What does it mean Aunty?
And I was not sure how to translate it. To translate it literally would be to lose something.
One of the wonderful things about language, any language, is that it gives you a new set of lenses with which to look at the world. Which is why languages sometimes borrow from one another – we use the French au fait and savoir faire in English -- because communication is not about mere words but about worldviews, and worldviews are impossible to translate.
Some people argue that language is what makes culture. I disagree. I believe identity is much more complex, that identity is a sensibility, a way of being, a way of looking at the world. And so there are Igbo people who don’t necessarily speak the language but are no less Igbo than others who do.
But I focus on language because while it is not the only way of transmitting identity, it is the easiest and the most wholesome.
I’d like to go back to the story of the woman whose son did not spoke Igbo and the pride with which she related this.
The corollary of her pride is shame. Where is this shame from? Why have we, as Ama Ata Aidoo wrote in her novel Changes, insisted on speaking about ourselves in the same condescending tone as others have used to speak of us?
There are many Igbo people who say the same thing as the woman with the son. Others may not think that Igbo will confuse their children, but they merely think it is not important in our newly globalized world. It is after all a small language spoken only in south-eastern Nigeria. Kedu ebe e ji ya eje?
It is indeed true that the world is shrinking. But to live meaningfully in a globalized world does not mean giving up what we are, it means adding to what we are.
And speaking of a globalized world, I remember being very impressed by the effort that the people of Iceland put in preserving their language, Icelandic. Iceland is a tiny country with a population less than that of Igboland. Many people speak English but speaking Icelandic is also very important to them. It is not because Icelandic has economic power. Iceland is certainly not the next China.
It is because the people value the language. They know it is a small language that does not have much economic power but they do not say: kedu ebe e ji ya eje?
Because they understand that there are other values that language has beyond the material and the economic. And this I think is key: Value.
To value something is to believe that it matters and to act as though it matters. We don’t seem to have this value. It is one thing to say speaking Igbo is important, but it’s another to make a conscious, concerted choice to speak Igbo to our children.
In many respects, to argue for the preservation of a language should be a conservative position, but oddly, in our case, it has become a progressive position.
I should pause here and say that I am not trying to romanticize Igbo culture. I quarrel strongly with a number of things in Igbo culture. I quarrel with the patriarchy that diminishes women. I quarrel with the reactionary arguments that try to silence dissent by invoking culture, by saying that so and so is not our culture as if culture were a static thing that never changes.
Igbo is not perfect, no people have a perfect culture, but there are Igbo values that we can retrieve and renew; the values of community; of consensus.
In his book about President Yar Adua’s administration, Segun Adeniyi tells a story about the dark weeks when Nigerians did now know where their president was, and whether he was alive or dead. He writes that Dora Akunyili came to him and said, “Segun, my conscience will not allow me to continue keeping quiet.”
Her conscience: It seems to me that conscience is rare in Nigerian public life. It should not be, but it is.
Conscience and integrity are central to Igbo culture, and to any culture that has strong communitarian principles. Conscience means that we cannot think only of ourselves, that we think of a greater good, that we remain aware of ourselves as part of a larger whole.
Some years ago, my cousin from Eziowelle told me a story that his grandfather had told him, about Isa Ile, where people in a dispute would go to a god and swear that they had not lied, with the understanding that whoever had lied would die. My cousin said, ‘thank God we no longer do that.’
Have we become, I wondered, a people now overly familiar with falsehood? Are we now allergic to truth? Should we not continue to have a metaphorical isa ile as a guiding principle? Should we not have a society where wilfully telling lies that cause harm to others will have real consequences?
The Igbo are famed for their entrepreneurial spirit. But at what point did we decide that we will no longer sell goods and services, but instead sell the safety of our sisters and brothers? How did we come to a place where people no longer sleep in their ancestral homes because they are afraid they will be kidnapped for ransom by their own relatives?
Igboland was once a place where people were concerned about where your money came from. Now that is no longer the case. Now, it matters only that one has money. As for where the money came from, we look away.
In Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, Unoka consults Agbala about his poor yam harvests.
Every year, he said sadly (to the priestess), ‘before I put any crop in the earth, I sacrifice a cock to An, the owner of all land. It is the law of our fathers. I also kill a cock at the shrine of the god of yams. I clear the bush and set fire to it when it is dry. I sow the yams when the first rain has fallen, and stake them when the young tendrils appear. I weed...’
‘Hold your peace!’ screamed the priestess, her voice terrible as it echoed through the dark void. ‘You have offended neither the gods nor your fathers. And when a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.’
So while we, ndi Anambra, till our fertile soil with strength, let us also be sure that we have not offended our fathers or our mothers. Let us retrieve and renew the values that once were ours. The values of conscience and integrity; Of community and consensus.
Let us disagree and agree to disagree but let us do so not as separate fractious groups fighting against each other constantly, but as people who ultimately have the same goal: a better community for everyone, a better Anambra State.
With Orange in hand, the English Rob Chimamanda
On Wednesday her epic novel about the Biafra war won Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the Orange prize. In her first interview since, she tells Stephen Moss that she wants to show how the west doesn't get Africa
CHIMAMANDA Ngozi Adichie is distraught - an unusual reaction to winning the Orange prize. It transpires that her handbag was stolen at a book signing in London on Tuesday, the night before the prize-giving, and she has lost her credit cards and a notebook full of novelistic jottings. She barely slept on Tuesday from rage and dismay. "I still can't believe that someone stole it, and am hoping for a miracle," she says. "So it's a good thing I won," she adds, cheering up, "or I'd have wondered why the heck I even came to England."
Her stolen handbag strikes me as a useful metaphor for much of what we talk about - the exploding of stereotypes. Nigerian author comes from the "crime hell" of her own country and gets robbed at an oh-so-genteel book reading at the sparkly new Royal Festival Hall. "I've never had any problems in Lagos," she says, "so to come to London and have it happen here ..."
Adichie resists stereotypical views of Africa. "We have a long history of Africa being seen in ways that are not very complimentary, and in America where she has been studying for the past 10 years being seen as an African writer comes with baggage that we don't necessarily care for. Americans think African writers will write about the exotic, about wildlife, poverty, maybe Aids. They come to Africa and African books with certain expectations. I was told by a professor at Johns Hopkins University that he didn't believe my first book Purple Hibiscus, published in 2003 because it was too familiar to him. In other words, I was writing about middle-class Africans who had cars and who weren't starving to death, and therefore to him it wasn't authentically African."
She is determined to show an Africa that isn't one huge refugee camp - a continent with many diverse stories, not a single story of suffering and dependency. "People forget that Africa is a place in which class exists," she says. "It's as if Africans are not allowed to have class, that somehow authenticity is synonymous with poverty and demands your pity and your sympathy. Africa is seen as the place where the westerner goes to sort out his morality issues. We see it in films and in lots of books about Africa, and it's very troubling to me."
She is sceptical about the impact of western celebrities who embrace Africa. "What I find problematic is the suggestion that when, say, Madonna adopts an African child, she is saving Africa. It's not that simple. You have to do more than go there and adopt a child or show us pictures of children with flies in their eyes. That simplifies Africa. If you followed the media you'd think that everybody in Africa was starving to death, and that's not the case; so it's important to engage with the other Africa."
Adichie's Orange prize-winning novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is again about the "other Africa", peopled by the sort of empowered, middle-class Africans in whom her professor so foolishly refused to believe. Two twin sisters, daughters of a wealthy businessman, are caught up in the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-70. Adichie, an Igbo from the south-eastern corner of Nigeria that attempted to secede as Biafra, traces the tragedy of that war, which is estimated to have cost three million lives. But, by some literary sleight of hand, she does it without annihilating the reader's senses. There is blood, gore, nightmarish horror; but there is also drink, talk, friendship, shared struggle, and lots of sex. You can see why Richard and Judy chose it for their book club - a move that shot the novel into the bestseller lists.
Another key character in Half of a Yellow Sun - the title comes from the emblem of the Biafran flag - is Ugwu, a houseboy from a poor village who gets caught up with the preachy, privileged, highly politicised group of independence- seekers, is conscripted into the Biafran army, and emerges as the conscience of the novel. In a neat twist, it becomes clear that he will write a book on the war, rather than the Englishman who throughout has been making notes for a history of the struggle. Africans must write their own stories, not let the west do the naming for them, as they have for a bloody century and more.
Adichie, who is only 29, says she finds CNN's coverage of Africa "exhausting" because of its refusal to let Africans do the talking. "They go to the Congo, for example, line the Congolese people up in the background, and then have a Belgian, who they say is a Congo expert, tell us about the Congo. And I think, 'Well, how about you bring the Congolese forward so we know what life is really like?' Sometimes I think, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could become the voice explaining America or England to the world.' It would never happen."
As in her novel, Adichie manages to make strong political points in a glancing, matter-of-fact way. She doesn't do sermonising, even when she's smuggling in a sermon. When I ask her why a white character plays a central part in the book, she says it was with an eye on the film rights. Hollywood insists on it; in fact, she now wishes she'd had more. "That's a joke, by the way," she adds hurriedly. Except it's a joke which contains a truth: Hollywood does demand troubled, transformative white characters to make Africa accessible to a predominantly white audience.
Taking on the Biafran war - the great story of her people, a struggle still etched in the collective memory - in her 20s shows a certain chutzpah. "I thought that I was ready to try," she says, "though I wasn't sure that it would work. I started writing about Biafra when I was 16. I wrote a very bad play, but that at least shows that I have long been interested in the subject. I had interviewed my father, poor man, endlessly before I wrote this play, and I very meticulously used everything he told me. I was manipulating characters just so they would fit in with what my father was doing."
She also wrote an angry short story with the same title as the novel, but when she came to write the book, some of the anger had abated. Adichie lost both her grandfathers in the war - the book is dedicated to their memory - but even though that made writing the novel painful, she still sought a degree of detachment. "In the short story I was much closer to things," she says. "I was more heartbroken. But by the time I came to the novel I had realised that for fiction to be really successful, you have to be a few steps removed. My book has Biafran sympathies, but I recognise that Biafra wasn't perfect."
Nigeria is still coming to terms with the war 40 years on, and Adichie hopes her book contributes to that. "We don't learn about this in school. In Nigerian history we get to 1967 and just move straight on to 1970. For a lot of Nigerians this is really a work of history, and it's very gratifying for me to hear from Nigerians in particular - because, in the end, it is the opinion of Nigerians that matters most - who say, 'My parents lived through the war and nobody ever talked about it until your book appeared.' "
Adichie's parents are academics, and hers is a high-achieving family. Her elder sister is a doctor and initially she planned to follow her, but realised she didn't care about medicine. She had loved books and writing from the age of seven. She says she was in tears when she told her father she had won the prize. "I was surprised at how excited he was. He was singing an Igbo song, a thank-you song to God. My father's a very reserved and quiet man, very calm and stoic, and I thought he'd say, 'Oh, well done,' but no, he started singing and dancing, and I started crying because it was very moving."
Adichie considers Nigeria her home, but says she will continue to spend part of her time in the US, where her sister works. She is doing a master's course in African Studies at Yale, which she says gives her access to material she would never find in Nigeria, and teaches creative writing. Despite the success of Half of a Yellow Sun, she reckons she will still need to teach to provide a steady income. "Creative writing programmes are not very necessary," she says. "They just exist so that people like us can make a living." But surely after being deified by Richard and Judy, racking up huge sales, and now winning the Orange prize, she's secure? "I think you just get this once in your life," she says.
Originally entitled 'Madonna not our saviour', this piece first appeared last Friday in The Guardian of London.
Source: Guardian, 11th June 2007.
Articles on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie